Staying active and upright positions during labour

Being active during labour can distract you from any discomfort you may be feeling. It can also shorten the duration of your labour.

You may feel the urge to stay upright and to move around. Listen to your body.

Being upright means using any position that avoids lying flat.

Benefits of staying upright during labour

Gravity will help your baby move down the birth passage. Pregnant women who are upright and active need less pain relief or interventions to get the baby out. Your baby will get a better oxygen supply and will be in a better position when you are upright.

Better contractions and less pain

When you are upright, your womb tilts forward during contractions. This means you will have better contractions and less pain. Contractions are stronger and more effective when you are upright. This could mean your labour is shorter.

Wider birth canal

The lower part of your spine can move better when you are upright. This means the birth canal can widen and make room for the baby's head. Pelvic joints can expand and move which means less pressure on nerves.

Shorter early labour

Walking in labour may help to shorten the early phase of labour. When labour is more established, you might need support to change positions between contractions.

Ways to stay upright during labour

Staying upright includes:

  • standing
  • sitting backwards on a chair and leaning over a pillow on the top
  • on a birthing ball
  • kneeling
  • squatting
  • on all fours
  • the 'slow dance' position

Positions for first stage of labour

Sitting on a birthing ball

woman sitting on a birthing ball
Sitting on a birthing ball

Sit on a birthing ball (gym ball). Make sure you are comfortable. Move your pelvis in circles or gently rock forwards and backwards. This helps gravity bring your baby further down your body.

Sitting backwards on a chair

woman sitting backwards on a chair
Sitting backwards on a chair

Sit facing the back of the chair, leaning forwards. Use a pillow for comfort if you like. You could sit in this position and watch a film while in the early stages of labour. Your birthing partner could massage your back during contractions.

Resting on a birthing ball

woman leaning on birthing ball placed on table
Resting on a birthing ball

Put your birthing ball on a table or height and rest against it while standing. You could also rest against a wall. This gives you time to meditate and relax between contractions. You will still benefit from an upright posture by using gravity to help with labour.

The 'slow dance' position

The 'slow dance' is a childbirth position that may help. Put your arms around your birth partner's neck and shoulders. Your birth partner can apply counter pressure to any particular spot, or hold you. You can rock backwards and forwards, music may help.

slow dance position
Slow dance position


Different positions using a birthing ball, mats and beanbags can help your baby move down the pelvis.

Positions for second stage of labour

Deep squat

woman squatting and holding onto chair in front
Deep squat positions

Use a chair to help support you. This deep squat can help increase the diameter of your pelvis by 2cm. This can help create room in your pelvis as your baby is being delivered.

Sitting with your back supported against a wall

woman sitting with back against wall
Sitting with your back supported against a wall

Sitting with your back supported can help gravity with the birth of your baby. The bed on the delivery ward can be adjusted to support you in this way. This can be especially helpful if you have had an epidural. As you will have less options to change positions at this stage.

Lying forward on a birthing ball

woman lying forward on a birthing ball
Lying forward on a birthing ball

Lying forward on a birthing ball can help to ease the pressure in your back during contractions. It is also a very natural position to deliver your baby in.

When you can’t be upright

You may not be able to stay upright if you:

  • had an epidural
  • have a drip
  • are connected to electronic monitors

To stay comfortable, ask your birth partner and midwife to help you change position.

Page last reviewed: 26 March 2018
Next review due: 26 March 2021